Why Flood Gates Alone Won't Save Venice

The venerable old city needs to embrace innovation and stop putting all of its eggs in the tourism basket, writes Italian-born architect and MIT professor Carlo Ratti.

Walking in flooded St. Mark's Square on Nov. 17
Walking in flooded St. Mark's Square on Nov. 17
Carlo Ratti*


What strikes us most about the flooding of Venice in recent days? Probably the images of St. Mark's Basilica inundated for the second time in less than 400 days, and knowing that the four previous times it was flooded took place over a span of 1,200 years.

In the coming decades, even modest climatological changes could be fatal to the city known as "La Serenissima," with its fragile network of streets, fields and buildings at the water's edge.

This is why so many people are now contemplating the possibility of an apocalyptic scenario, and asking how much can be done to avoid one. Some are even invoking the possible "death of Venice." But I believe there is something else that should alarm people more: the death of Venetians.

It's not a question of numbers — cities have never been mere material products. To revive the urbs, the physical city, with its walls and its streets, the civitas must exist — a society of active citizens ready to participate. And today the Venetian civitas is practically dead.

Some are even invoking the possible "death of Venice."

There are many factors that contributed to this result, starting with poor choices the city made in the 1980s that channeled money away from universities and innovation, things that today could have become engines of development and drivers of excellence. Instead Venice took the easy route by focusing just on tourism revenue.

The civic emptying of Venice and the hemorrhaging of residents from the downtown area have deprived the city of a natural check that once kept the territory and environment under control. It has shut the city into a feedback loop of whining inaction, as we were reminded by the politicians' declarations in recent days (what a difference from the spirit of those who in previous centuries raised "La Serenissima" to great heights!).

In short, I think this is the moment to think about how to react. And doing so requires more than simply repairing MOSES, the system of hydraulic dams. More than embarking on another pharaonic construction project, what we need are extreme and courageous gestures.

Life goes on in spite of the high water emergency — Photo: Sergio Agazzi/IPA via ZUMA Press

The story of Venice these last few decades (leaving aside a few enlightened leaders) has been that of a dramatic tragedy. The first possible response, then, should be to withdraw the City of the Lagoon from Italian jurisdiction.

This isn't about restoring the short-lived Republic of San Marco (1848-1849), as some nostalgic secessionists would like. But Venice should become a new city, managed under international jurisdiction. It should be an open city, where anyone can arrive and quickly obtain the full rights of a citizen, as long as his or her state of mind is not that of a responsibility-deprived tourist.

To reconstruct the true civitas, Venice just needs to open up to the world, summoning with a rallying cry all who have concrete projects and ideas: innovators with business ideas (and the funds to implement them); students ready to spend a few years in the lagoon to restore its magnificent palazzos; engineers capable of finding new ways to handle climate change (the problems of the lagoon today could be those of New York tomorrow).

It will take more than simply declaring Venice an "open city" to reverse this long-running decline.

What's needed, in other words, is anyone willing to engage themselves and contribute to rebuilding the glorious but now decrepit Venetian civitas. Venice would then become a land of experimentation for a never-before-seen urban model: a place in which to test a bold new "citizenship pact" suited to the contemporary world's "space of flux."

Such a solution may seem fantastical, but it is not without precedent. When Venice was decimated by the Plague in the mid-14th century and lost 60% of its native population, it decided to open itself up to foreigners, accepting not only immigrants but offering Venetian citizenship to those who planned to stay long-term.

This type of citizenship was based on the will of non-Venetians to absorb "Venetianness," including the desire to work. There's no reason why such a method shouldn't work today, as the city is confronted with the contemporary plague of tourism, which is slower, perhaps, in its level of contagion, but more ravaging in its effects. Indeed, from the 1950s to today the population of Venice has dropped by about 70%.

To be sure, it will take more than simply declaring Venice an "open city" to reverse this long-running decline. Important physical and infrastructural interventions need to take place, and to be carried out without stumbling blocks. But by the same token, we can't delude ourselves in thinking that a single engineering project can repair all the damage done by decades of progressive emptying out of the city of its residents — and, as a consequence, its soul.

It doesn't make sense to work on the urbs if we negate the importance of the civitas. To save Venice, we have to save the Venetians — above all from themselves.​

*Carlo Ratti is an Italian-born architect, engineer, inventor and Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor.

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Pro-life and Pro-abortion Rights Protests in Washington

Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

👋 Håfa adai!*

Welcome to Thursday, where new Omicron findings arrive from South Africa, abortion rights are at risk at the U.S. Supreme Court and Tyrannosaurus rex has got some new competition. From Germany, we share the story of a landmark pharmacy turned sex toy museum.

[*Chamorro - Guam]


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• COVID update: South Africa reports a higher rate of reinfections from the Omicron variant than has been registered with the Beta and Delta variants, though researchers await further findings on the effects of the new strain. Meanwhile, the UK approves the use of a monoclonal therapy, known as sotrovimab, to treat those at high risk of developing severe COVID-19 symptoms.The approval comes as the British pharmaceutical company, GSK, separately announced the treatment has shown to “retain activity” against the Omicron variant. Down under, New Zealand’s reopening, slated for tomorrow is being criticized as posing risks to its under-vaccinated indigenous Maori.

• Supreme Court poised to gut abortion rights: The U.S. Supreme Court signaled a willingness to accept a Republican-backed Mississippi law that would bar abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy, even in cases of rape or incest. A ruling, expected in June, may see millions of women lose abortion access, 50 years after it was recognized as a constitutional right in the landmark Roe v. Wade case.

• Macri charged in Argentine spying case: Argentina’s former president Mauricio Macri has been charged with ordering the secret services to spy on the family members of 44 sailors who died in a navy submarine sinking in 2017. The charge carries a sentence of three to ten years in prison. Macri, now an opposition leader, says the charges are politically motivated.

• WTA suspends China tournaments over Peng Shuai: The Women's Tennis Association (WTA) announced the immediate suspension of all tournaments in China due to concerns about the well-being of Chinese tennis player Peng Shuai, and the safety of other players. Peng disappeared from public view after accusing a top Chinese official of sexual assault.

• Michigan school shooting suspect to be charged as an adult: The 15-year-old student accused of killing four of his classmates and wounding seven other people in a Michigan High School will face charges of terrorism and first-degree murder. Authorities say the suspect had described wanting to attack the school in cellphone videos and a journal.

• Turkey replaces finance minister amid economic turmoil: Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan appointed a strong supporter of his low-interest rate drive, Nureddin Nebati, as Turkey’s new finance minister.

• A battle axe for a tail: Chilean researchers announced the discovery of a newly identified dinosaur species with a completely unique feature from any other creatures that lived at that time: a flat, weaponized tail resembling a battle axe.


South Korean daily Joong-ang Ilbo reports on the discovery of five Omicron cases in South Korea. The Asian nation has broken its daily record for overall coronavirus infections for a second day in a row with more than 5,200 new cases. The variant cases were linked to arrivals from Nigeria and prompted the government to tighten border controls.



In the northeastern Chinese city of Harbin, a reward of 10,000 yuan ($1,570) will be given to anyone who volunteers to take a COVID-19 test and get a positive result, local authorities announced on Thursday on the social network app WeChat.


Why an iconic pharmacy is turning into a sex toy museum

The "New Pharmacy" was famous throughout the St. Pauli district of Hamburg for its history and its long-serving owner. Now the owner’s daughter is transforming it into a museum dedicated to the history of sex toys, linking it with the past "curing" purpose of the shop, reports Eva Eusterhus in German daily Die Welt.

💊 The story begins in autumn 2018, when 83-year-old Regis Genger stood at the counter of her pharmacy and realized that the time had come for her to retire. At least that is the first thing her daughter Anna Genger tells us when we meet, describing the turning point that has also shaped her life and that of her business partner Bianca Müllner. The two women want to create something new here, something that reflects the pharmacy's history and Hamburg's eclectic St. Pauli quarter (it houses both a red light district and the iconic Reeperbahn entertainment area) as well as their own interests.

🚨 Over the last few months, the pharmacy has been transformed into L'Apotheque, a venture that brings together art and business in St. Pauli's red light district. The back rooms will be used for art exhibitions, while the old pharmacy space will house a museum dedicated to the history of sex toys. Genger and Müllner want to show that desire has always existed and that people have always found inventive ways of maximizing pleasure, even in times when self-gratification was seen as unnatural and immoral, as a cause of deformities.

🏩 Genger and Müllner want the museum to show how the history of desire has changed over time. The art exhibitions, which will also center on the themes of physicality and sexuality, are intended to complement the exhibits. They are planning to put on window displays to give passers-by a taste of what is to come, for example, British artist Bronwen Parker-Rhodes's film Lovers, which offers a portrait of sex workers during lockdown.

➡️


"I would never point a gun at anyone and pull a trigger at them. Never."

— U.S. actor Alec Baldwin spoke to ABC News, his first interview since the accident that killed cinematographer Halyna Hutchins on the set of the movie Rust last October. The actor said that although he was holding the gun he didn’t pull the trigger, adding that the bullet “wasn't even supposed to be on the property.”

✍️ Newsletter by Anne-Sophie Goninet and Jane Herbelin

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